In the Case of the Flushed Ring, Plumber Is a Girl's Best Friend

By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Sometimes plumbers just know. And after 24 years turning wrenches on the campus of Mount St. Mary's University, plumber Ronnie Bledsoe had one of those hunches about where a missing engagement ring might turn up.

Not just any old engagement ring, either, he was told, but a $20,000 rock that got sucked down an automatic-flushing toilet weeks ago.

The loss devastated Debbie Squiccimarri, a New Jersey high school teacher who was visiting the Emmitsburg campus Feb. 20 with her 17-year-old daughter, her sister and her niece when the ring vanished down a toilet in the Cogan Student Union Building.

"Everybody thought the big deal was how much it cost," said Squiccimarri, 43, who first slipped on the two-carat diamond ring after her fiance popped the question on Christmas night. But its real value was closer to the heart than the pocketbook: "I didn't feel engaged anymore after flushing it."

Bledsoe tore apart the toilet that day; Squiccimarri visited the campus's sewage treatment plant before heading home to Ramsey, N.J. Bledsoe even tore apart more pipes over spring break. No luck. Friends, especially ones with plumbing know-how, told Squiccimarri to kiss the ring goodbye.

But maybe, just maybe, Bledsoe figured, if the ring traveled the maze of underground plumbing to an L-shaped juncture under the fourth manhole from the building, where a new six-inch pipe opened, and spilled onto an 18-inch horizontal ledge before dropping down another eight-inch pipe drain . . .

The hunch paid off. On March 20, Bledsoe lifted the manhole cover, spied something bright in an inch of water and fished out the ring with needle-nose pliers.

Yesterday, ring and betrothed were formally reunited. Not a man of many words, Bledsoe said in a telephone interview yesterday: "I was really happy about it because I remembered how down she was the day she lost it." Squiccimarri said she gave Bledsoe a reward but did not want to publicize the amount.

Squiccimarri was visiting the campus on a frigid weekend when she blew her nose and lost the ring.

"I heard it go in. As soon as I moved to the bowl, it flushed -- and they're so loud, those flushes, it was like a freaky feeling when it went," she said. "I just screamed, 'Oh, my God! My ring!' "

She made a tearful call to her fiance, Frank Eufemia, 46, a former professional baseball player who teaches at the same high school.

"Is your arm caught in the toilet?" he asked her. "Because if it's not, stop crying." Later, he even joked: "Well, that was a short engagement."

Bledsoe, 70, of Gettysburg, Pa., said that about half a dozen rings have vanished on campus over the years, usually down sink drains. He estimated that Squiccimarri's ring traveled at least 250 yards from the toilet to the odd twist under the manhole.

"This is just one of those things plumbers understand," he said.

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